The Week My Father Died

A detailed account of the days leading up to and following my father's death on October 28, 2011. He was 61; I was 24.

The Week My Father Died
Photo by Ross Sneddon / Unsplash

The night my father died, I stood in his hospital room and watched his heart rate slow to a stop on the machine next to his bed.

I held his hand as he drifted away, surrounded by my mother and brothers and the vast silence that filled the room.

As we walked out of the hospital lobby that night I looked around and realized that it would be the last time I'd walk through those doors. For the entire month prior, Mt Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan had become our second home.

The Week My Father

As I entered his hospital room earlier that day, I felt a heavy pit in my stomach. I somehow knew that those few hours would be the last that I'd spend by my father's side.

There are many things I remember about that night and many things I don't.

I remember riding home with my brother Adam because I didn't want him to have to drive alone. It was a quiet ride, as neither of us really knew what to do or say or how to overcome the overwhelming shock that filled the space between us.

Jeff was waiting at my house when I returned home. He had gone to the drug store and bought two types of tissues: one set of boxes for my family and another specific type for me that he knew I liked.

Jeff and I left my house to go to a diner around midnight. As we turned the corner by the railroad tracks, a train went by and startled us both. I came to find out in the days, weeks, months that followed that being easily startled is a symptom of grief.

I ordered a stack of whole wheat chocolate chip banana pancakes at the diner and ate them all, though I'm not entirely sure how.

Later that night when I woke from sleep gasping for air, Jeff held me tight and reminded me to take "yoga breaths."

The Week My Father

The next day, an unseasonable snowstorm hit New York. My uncle was to land on a plane from Florida and Jeff and I were tasked with picking him up from the airport while my mother and brothers drove through the snow to a cemetery to make funeral arrangements.

The flight was delayed though so Jeff and I wasted time at a nearby mall, where I spent 10 minutes in a tea shop not able to make a decision about what kind of tea I wanted. Indecisiveness, I later learned, is also a symptom of grief. After that, I bought a black turtleneck sweater to wear to my father's funeral.

I bought a black turtleneck sweater to wear to my father's funeral.

My uncle's flight was canceled. We lost power at our house. It was snowing. It was cold.

And I had a black turtleneck sweater to wear to my father's funeral.

Later that night, my whole family huddled around the living room, wearing multiple layers and covered in blankets. We ate pizza in the dark, one of my father's favorite foods, and joked about how mad he would be that it was snowing in October and that he couldn't watch TV because the power was out.

We slept under multiple blankets with no heat and again, Jeff held me close and reminded me to take "yoga breaths" when I woke up gasping for air in the middle of the night.

The day after that was a blur. Power was restored. My uncle's flight finally landed and my whole family prepared for my father's funeral, which would take place the following day: Halloween.

The Week My Father

The thing I loved most about my father's funeral was the rabbi who talked about my father's love of eating.

"He," he proclaimed.

The thing I loved least about my father's funeral was everything.

We returned to my house to eat bagels and drink lots of tea out of my father's favorite mug. At least that's what I did.

A bowl of Halloween candy sat outside our door with a sign that read something like, "Sitting Shiva. Please don't disturb. Take one."

I watched through the window as children dressed in costumes approached our house, laughing and trick-or-treating, reaching into the bowl of candy, not feeling the way I felt having just buried my father hours before.

Jeff had to leave to go back to DC for work and that night no one was there to hold me when I woke up gasping for air. I had to remember to take "yoga breaths" on my own.

The Week My Father

The week after my father died was a long, exhausting blur of people coming and going and going and coming. My family and I faced the arduous task of entertaining and comforting visitors to our home when all we really wanted was to be comforted ourselves.

The days dragged and on most nights 6 p.m. felt like midnight, but we made it through the week.

At the end of our week-long shiva, we took a walk to the river. The air was crisp and the world was quiet as I stood by the water and said goodbye to my father. Time stood still and now, seven years later, I still feel the same yearning in my chest that I did on that cool November morning.

Each year since, around the anniversary of my father's death, this timeline of events plays out in my mind like a movie as if it were just yesterday. I can close my eyes and picture myself right there in these moments. I can feel the warm mug of tea that seemed permanently affixed to my hand. I can smell my father's hospital room and feel Jeff's tight embrace as I woke at night gasping for air.

Seven years later, I am still saying goodbye to my father but although he is gone, he is present in every aspect of my life.

Seven years later, I am writing all this out for the first time and feel there is still so much more to say.

Rather than continuing to write, however, I'd like to end this post with something that has helped me tremendously over the past seven years. A poem that I've shared several times (and even had read at our wedding) but always touches me a little bit more around this time of the year. It's called the Native American Prayer for the Grieving.

I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still - I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the sweet uplifting rush,
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone -
I am with you still in each new dawn.

My father passed away seven years ago today. He was 61, I was 24. This post is a tribute to him.

As always, thank you for reading!